Justice officials' acts shameful, offensive

The extent to which top Justice Department officials broke the law by politicizing the agency's hiring process is shameful and infuriating. A report released Monday details the total disregard these agents of the law held for rules and policies designed to protect the department from political influence and manipulation. Those officials acted unethically, and this report says illegally. They should and must be held accountable.

The joint report of the Justice Department's inspector general and Office of Professional Responsibility is a further indictment of how the nation's top law enforcement agency has operated under the Bush administration. It's the second report to find that officials disproportionately weeded out candidates with liberal credentials and hired those with conservative affiliations. Investigators found political considerations improperly used in screening applicants for the Justice Department's key recruiting programs.

This new report goes further, finding that even immigration judges were improperly screened using a political litmus test. Inspector General Glenn Fine succinctly frames the result: “High quality candidates for important department positions [were] rejected because of improper political considerations.” And some unqualified candidates were hired because the criteria used focused inappropriately, and almost solely, on ideology.

The report put much of the blame on two officials, Monica Goodling, a former aide to then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and one of Ms. Goodling's superiors, Kyle Sampson. Ms. Goodling admitted to inappropriate behavior in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee last year. Not only did she vet people for their political leanings but reportedly passed over candidates based on her beliefs about their sexual orientation. The report said Mr. Sampson was responsible for changing the hiring process for immigration judges in a way that encouraged improper political hiring.

The Justice Department workforce is made of two groups, political appointees who come and go with administrations and nonpartisan career employees covered by federal civil service law. Unfortunately, blatant discrimination when hiring career employees violates hiring laws but isn't a crime. The most severe punishment would be firing. But most named in these reports have already left the department.

Of course, Ms. Goodling could – and should – face legal action if she gave untruthful testimony to the House panel last year. The inspector general's report appears to contradict some of her testimony. Her law license also could be revoked, and all involved could face civil lawsuits by those passed over inappropriately.

This disgraceful behavior of those involved have made a mockery of the word “justice.” The rules they violated were in place for us – the public – to ensure that justice is meted out fairly. Officials of the Justice Department must root out the scofflaws and restore our confidence that justice, not favoritism, is their main goal.